I’m sitting at a coffee shop today and a girl walks in. It’s the kind of coffee shop in Manhattan that is only meant for coffee and food. There’s hardly any place to sit. Yet, I’ve been lucky enough to perch myself at the only ledge with some bar stools against the glass overlooking the street. People are walking along the sidewalk almost brushing my nose at breakneck speed just beyond the glass. It’s not very far from several train stations.
At first, the girl asks me to keep her seat while she goes to get food. I’m absorbed in my phone a long time when I suddenly notice a voice next to me. “Would you? ” I look up and don’t know what she means and she whispers in my ear. “Would you tell her that’s rude?”
I try to stretch myself to look beyond her to see what she means. I notice a pretty teenage girl combing her hair while my neighbour is having her wrap and soda. At first I think my neighbour is asking me to say something to the girl but I quickly realize that’s not what she means.
Thankfully, the pretty girl leaves soon after her grooming session. My neighbour explains that she wanted to tell the girl to stop combing her hair next to her food but couldn’t.
It would have been just a self-exploratory conversation with nothing expected of me but to listen except that she begins to ask me questions. “Do you think I’m germophobic? Do these things bother you? Have you seen anything like it before? ”
I tell her I’m from India. I’ve seen a wide range of eating places.
Soon we strike up a conversation about what I mean by range and what her experience of public eating places in New York has been. “You never know who’s been there before you,” she says.
One topic leads to another and she unexpectedly offers to help me with something. I’m touched. She recommends the chocolate chip cookies in the cafe and tells me the exact time when the baristas put out a fresh batch. She knows because she works in the building right opposite the cafe. Then she leaves.
I know I’ll probably never get that email with the details she promised. I know I’ll probably never meet her again. Yet, the conversation cheers me up despite the fact that I find the whole context of the experience rather odd. She probably wanted to confess to someone that she needed to muster up strength to stand up to people.
And me? Well, I probably just needed to talk.
It was the sort of conversation that you can have only with people you meet at cafes, in elevators, while waiting for the bus. Sudden revelations that would be awkward to talk about with friends–conversations that can only happen in such huge cities where you’re guaranteed not to meet the same people again.
Or even if you do meet them again, there’s bound to be so many others just like them that you’ll think it’s one of those others that you met. And you’ll continue towards your station at breakneck speed just like those others that you know you’ve never met .